HOMILY WEEK 25 04 – Week II
An Intimate Faith in Jesus:
Optional Memorial of Blessed Émile Tavernier-Gamelin
(Eccles 1:2-11; Ps 90; Lk 9:7-9)
The late Serge LeClerc, former gang leader turned motivational speaker, stressed in one of his talks how he was always looking for identity in his career of crime. He also mentioned how he discovered he could manipulate business people, because they were also looking for identity.
Today, the Gospel invites us not just to believe in Jesus and his identity, but to also get to know him more intimately.
The identity of Jesus was not just a question for King Herod and the people of Jesus’ time, who had opinions such as John the Baptist reincarnated, Elijah returned, or a prophet. Almost every year a major media outlet will put out an issue on the identity of Jesus – recently that included the National Geographic magazine. Other major religions consider him just a prophet, or even the illegitimate son of Mary.
The identity of Jesus is an important one. Who is Jesus for us, and how well do we know him? Over the years I have developed my own answer to that question, which I pray every morning at the start of my holy hour: Lord Jesus, totally receptive to the Father’s love; humble, obedient, pure and faithful in response to that love; Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David, Savior, Redeemer; Word made flesh, Sinless one, free of addiction, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Resurrection, crucified Messiah, sacrificial victim, Risen Lord, victorious King. He is my intimate friend – the one who can be experienced in sacred, intimate friendships of trust and acceptance. He is forgiveness – the one who forgives those we cannot. Finally, he is a suffering servant who can be found in our suffering, our past, and who can walk with us to touch our wounds and help us heal through forgiveness.
Along that same line, at times when giving talks, I have gone back over my life, remembered all the persons who positively influenced or helped me in some way, rolled them all into one imaginary person, and introduced that person to the group I am addressing as Jesus Christ – a talk that always has an impact and helps others identify those who have helped them with Jesus Christ.
We are also invited to move from just knowing about Jesus, to truly knowing him, to developing a more intimate relationship with him, and experiencing him in our lives. That is where contemplative prayer comes in – spending time with Jesus in silence and solitude, just being in his presence, soaking up his love as beloved sons and daughters of God, as Henri Nouwen writes so well.
I like to imagine that I am in the presence of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit when I enter into my holy hour, as Mary of Bethany did, sitting at the feet of Jesus. She was not so much listening to his words, as she was aware that she was in the presence of the Word – a big difference. What words Jesus was speaking was less important to her then the fact the she was actually in his presence, soaking up his love.
It struck me lately that the reverse is also true – if we are in the presence of the Trinity, then the, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have humbled themselves to come and be in our presence, and that is an awesome realization.
Another thing I like to do is write a love letter to Jesus, Marriage Encounter style, sharing my feelings with him about the Word of God I am praying with. Eleven years after my father passed away, I wrote a letter to him sharing with him all the feelings I had towards him that I was never able to share with him when he was alive, and that experience transformed my relationship with him, from just being his son, to now being his friend. I believe doing the same thing with Jesus is transforming my relationship with him into a more intimate friendship.
The first reading brings to mind another aspect of Jesus and that is the newness he can bring to our lives. Whereas the author of Ecclesiastes complains that there is nothing new under the sun, we know that Jesus gave us a new commandment – to love one another as he has loved us, making that as important as loving God with our whole being – the Grand Shema of Judaism, and that is a new reality. Add to that the reality of resurrection to a new eternal life Jesus wants to share with us, and the indwelling of his Spirit, and there is much newness we can celebrate and experience every day.
Today we are invited to honour someone who had exceptional faith in Jesus, knew him well and lived out his teachings in her life – Blessed Émilie Tavernier-Gamelin. She was born in Montreal in 1800. By the age of 28, she had endured the death of her husband and three children, drawing her closer to Our Lady of Sorrows. Émilie devoted her life to the poor, sick, orphaned and imprisoned, setting up Houses of Providence for their care. With the blessing of Bishop Bourget, she founded the Sisters of Providence in 1843, and became their Superior in 1844. Her last words as she lay dying in 1851 were “humility, simplicity, charity, but above all, charity.” Émilie Tavernier-Gamelin was beatified in 2001.
The Eucharist is both an act of faith in the identity of Jesus as the Word made flesh and bread of life, and an intimate meal with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May our celebration continue to strengthen our faith in Jesus in all the ways mentioned, and deepen our intimate relationship with him.